Using ESL Songs
teachers should be using ESL songs in class and how to go about it
Many teachers already know the joy of bringing ESL
songs into the classroom. This article looks at why songs benefit
pupils, and also HOW to use songs in a fun and productive way. Read on
for insight and prepare to be motivated to use music with your ESL
First we'll take a look at the incredible benefits
of using songs as a part of ESL teaching. Then we'll consider some of
the problems teachers encounter using ESL songs, which discourage them
from continuing. Finally we will learn how songs can be used
successfully, so that your pupils learn faster, enjoy your classes more
and really can sing along!
The Incredible Benefits of Teaching ESL
Songs help learn vocabulary, grammar and syntax
Learning with songs really works as children hear
whole sentences and
absorb grammar and syntax subconsciously. It's an easy way for them to
learn and remember words and phrases.
They can use meaningful language in context
Children hear vocabulary and phrases in a natural
context and no longer as isolated words or sentences.
Songs can be catchy and re-usable
Unlike a listening comprehension a song is catchy
and fun and ESL
students will be happy hearing it many times over a several months, as
long as you don't play it to death in a single lesson.
Songs enhance listening skills
Naturally listening to any English song helps
listening skills as long
as the language is within the grasp of the learner.
They improve speaking fluency with the natural
rhythms of language
When using songs for ESL that are performed by native speakers children
hear the natural rhythms and stresses of English and this helps their
pronunciation and speaking fluency.
Integrating music and actions makes your lesson
appeal to wider learning styles
Along with the music, melody and rhythm actions can be found to go with
the song. Actions may be used with any song and not just with obvious
'action songs' like Head Shoulders Knees and Toes. This immediately
pushes the boat out to reach more pupils by encompassing a variety of
learning styles in class.
Kinesthetic and tactile learners will latch on to
using their bodies to the music while Auditory learners are in their
element listening. Visual learners see others making the actions and
can look at story pictures or vocabulary flashcards relating to the
song. Everybody is happy, except for the tiny minority of people who do
not like music!
Songs are fun and motivate pupils
Only at number seven on this list but yet a
gigantic benefit is the
fact that using music can lift the atmosphere in class, bring in a
boost of energy and zest for life that captures the children's
attention and motivates them in their quest to learn English.
Songs can be confidence building
Using songs for ESL is a way for children to
listen and practice
English in a group, joining in when they can without being singled out,
and gradually achieving more with each listening. A huge boost in
confidence can be gained from this, which percolates through to all
Songs are memory aids
We all know how songs can stick in our heads and
this is exactly what
we want for our English language learners.
Songs help with classroom management
More mundane but absolutely crucial to a teacher
is that putting on a
song immediately attracts the attention of the class. All pupils join
in with the actions and/or start to sing along. The teacher now has
their attention if he/she did not before!
In summary songs allow pupils to hear English in
context, naturally, to listen repeatedly, to enjoy learning, to be more
involved with TPR (total physical response), to be focused and
motivated and remember language more easily and for longer. Songs also
help with classroom management.
Problems ESL Teachers encounter using
So with all these wonderful benefits of using
songs to teach ESL learners, why don't more teachers use them more
Well an obvious problem is that many English songs
are hopeless for ESL learners. Most English songs have too many
as they are written for native speakers so young ESL beginners have no
hope of being able to sing along. Secondly many popular songs have
content for the classroom – at least in many cultures.
Then you've got the problem of what to do while
the music plays with the children sitting there like lemons. And,
words are so difficult and fast, you have to play the song
to death before the children can have any hope of following it. Before
you get to that point they'll be emitting a groan that says, "oh not
that song AGAIN – can't you see we are SICK of it!"
How to go about teaching with ESL songs
Firstly it goes without saying that you need the
right kind of song. If you choose music that is too fast or difficult,
your pupils are likely to glaze over, become distracted and in the
worst case become demoralized by their failure to follow the song.
need songs that are specific for ESL
English songs for native speakers are FINE as
background music while you do other activities or games, but if your
aim is for your pupils to be able to sing along to the song, then you
need something with simpler words and which is repetitive.
2. How to do it...
Songs can be used as background music to other
activities and this is a good strategy when teaching two year olds.
However from three and up more structured teaching
methods can be used successfully. Here is an example of how it can be
done, although one always wants to vary one's approach and activities
with each song:
3. Start by teaching the key
vocabulary in the song
using games and flashcards.
This may take a whole lesson
young learners (such as three year olds). Once that is done introduce
the key grammar so the children may use the new vocabulary in the
context of a sentence or phrase.
4. The children can hear the song a
couple of times
as background music while playing listening games where
they learn and
practice vocabulary. This helps them start to become familiar with the
melody and rhythms even though they may not understand the words at
this point. Previews like this help when it comes to listening to the
song attentively for the first time.
5. Use language games with the song
you come to play the song expecting the
children's focused attention on the words use a game. This might be to
run and jump on a flashcard of a noun when they hear that noun, or to
point at it if you have a classroom situation. Or you might stick four
or five flashcards of nouns from the song on the board and ask the
children to listen and clap whenever they hear one of those words.
6. Keep it fresh
listening to the song two or three times
using a different listening game each time set it aside until the next
lesson. This keeps it fresh. At the next lesson review the vocabulary
from the previous lesson, perhaps learn some new words and re-visit the
song. This time you might work on some actions to put to the
7. Make up actions
idea is to make a special action for particular nouns. For example if
the song has the word apple in it then pretending to bite into an
apple, or making a circle with your hands could be an action for that
word. There may be verbs or adjectives in the song that can be acted
out. Actions can portray meaning and also may be purely for the sake of
moving to the music. In any case with a teeny bit of imagination anyone
can make up actions for any song! Remember that your pupils are a well
of inspiration and would be honored to give you ideas.
are a host of options and if you would like
ideas do check out my various publications on ESL games and activities
– and particularly for young learners - on my TeachingEnglishGames Dot
com web site (live link at the bottom of the article). At any rate
never expect the children to just sit there passively. It's preferable
to engage them with a specific task while they listen as this keeps
them focused and eager.
8. Practise saying the lines in rhythm
the next lesson out comes the song again for a
short portion of the lesson. This time you might have a session saying
the words in the rhythm of the music, then repeat this and add in the
actions you put together in the last lesson. Finish playing the song
once with children doing the actions and attempting to join in where we
9. Break down the difficulty
you like singing you might want to practice the
tune with the children line by line. If a line is long break down the
difficulty and sing the first half only (with any actions), and let the
children sing that back to you two or three times. Then add on the
second half. Wherever you see the children struggling, SIMPLIFY – break
down the difficulty into manageable chunks and sing SLOWER than the
actual song if necessary at first.
10. Re-visit the song to perfect it and
the song will come together in a fun,
non-threatening way, and in a way that keeps the music fresh. Once a
song has been well-learned and preferably performed to parents or other
classes, put it to rest. Generally people like to move on to new things
and it can become stale to be looking at the same words over and over.
It's better to leave something that is quite good and move on than to
flog it to death seeking perfection. Children will be happy to review
the song if you have kept it fresh for them. This is why I prefer teach
a play or song over a series of lessons rather than doing it in a
block. Of course with faster learners you will be able to do a song in
a single lesson, but with a "normal" group of preschool year old
beginners this would be a feat indeed!
primary students, once the song has been
learned through listening and speaking, the lyrics can be used to work
on reading, spelling and writing skills.
11. Ideal songs for preschool ESL and
help preschool ESL teachers I have created a
curriculum for preschool learners based on games, stories and related
songs. Teachers work through the twenty illustrated stories, sing and
act out songs, which cover the same topics, and even have the same
characters in them. The songs are especially created for young ESL
learners aged 3 to 6, although they also appeal even to older children.
The language is simple, repetitive and children learn it by heart
quickly, much to the surprise and delight of many teachers and parents.
Everything is included with this resource from vocabulary flashcards,
story illustrations, masks to make and wear for acting, games to teach
the language and of course the music itself.
To listen to these fun songs especially
for ESL please visit: